Thursday, April 30, 2009

Get Used To It

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday about the rejection letters students have received from colleges. Due to the large number of applicants, more students than ever are being rejected by the schools of their choice. Back in the Dark Ages, when I was in high school, we applied to one or two schools and most likely got accepted by both. We didn't have to apply to ten or fifteen and be rejected by most. We spent our senior year partying and having fun instead of sitting at a computer filling out applications.

Some of these rejected students have created a "rejection wall" on a message board. Colleges are rated on how harsh or how compassionate the rejections are.

Rejections ranged from downright cruel-- "The deans were obliged to select from among candidates who clearly could do sound work at Bates" (Bates College)-- to the very nice but wishy-washy "Past experience suggests that the particular college a student attends is far less important than what the student does to develop his or her strengths and talents over the next four years" (Harvard). Stanford tells students that appeals will not be considered. Duke wants rejectees to know that they'll "find an institution at which you will be happy."

I couldn't help but see the parallels between these letters and the rejection letters most writers have seen at some point in their careers. Come to think of it, looking for an agent is a lot like searching for that perfect college. Students pore over college websites checking out majors, course requirements and activities. Writers spend hours researching agents to see what they represent, who their clients are and how many sales they've made. Students spend weeks working on the application package and essay, while writers agonize over the perfect hook and query letter.

The rejections are similar, too. Some are harsh, like the one from Bates College. I once had one that said, "I thought it would be better." Ouch. Others are kind, "while I liked this a lot, it's just not right for my list, but please think of me for your next project." Some agents say that you'll surely find another agent who will love it.

Although rejection isn't easy, I think it's healthy for these students to learn to deal with it. Rejection is a part of life, whether it's not getting accepted to the school of one's choice, or getting turned down for the perfect job.

And if any of these students plan to be writers someday, well, they'd better get used to it.

Anyone have any rejections they'd like to share? What was your most memorable rejection--either good or bad?


Judy Schneider said...

I think the most painful rejections are the form letters with the old "Doesn't fit our list" line on them. If you've done your homework and submitted to an agent who DOES represent the type of work you're writing, that makes the news even more difficult to digest. It's as though they didn't even pick the correct form rejection to send you.

Great post, Joyce! Thanks!

Joyce said...

I can see why most agents use form rejections, especially with the abundance of email queries they receive, but they should probably use something better than "doesn't fit our list." I have no idea what it should be, though!

Anonymous said...

I'm not a writer, but can attest to the fact that life is full of rejections. When you are young and keep hitting yourself for your failures, not realizing that in order to have many successes, you must also experience many failures, life can be painful. When you finally get to that "Ah, ha" moment, I found it actually quite comforting...and stopped blaming myself for everything imagineable. Very liberating.
Amy Oliphant....Joyce's sister